The Supreme Court has been hearing a “landmark” community care case that could have huge implications for disabled people who receive support from their local council.
Lawyers have described the two-day appeal as potentially the most important social care court case in 15 years.
KM, a disabled person with high support needs, is asking the court to rule that Cambridgeshire County Council’s adult social care policy is unlawful.
He has argued that the package the council offered him did not meet his needs.
If his appeal is successful, every local authority in England and Wales will have to reconsider how it assesses the needs of disabled people.
The KM case has huge historical significance, as it seeks to overturn a ruling made in 1997 by the House of Lords – the predecessor of the Supreme Court.
The House of Lords ruled in 1997 that Gloucestershire County Council was able to take into account its financial resources when deciding on a disabled person’s care needs, but the council won only by a majority of three Law Lords to two.
Nick Armstrong, a barrister who specialises in public law, told the launch of the Deaf and Disabled People’s Organisations Legal Network this week that the KM case was about whether local authorities “can take into account resources when taking decisions that cut to the heart of human dignity”.
Four disability charities – Sense, RNIB, the National Autistic Society and Guide Dogs – have “intervened” in KM’s case, which meant they were able to take part in this week’s two-day hearing.
They argue that disabled people like KM should be assessed in terms of what care they need, rather than according to the local authority’s financial position.
Health secretary Andrew Lansley has also intervened in the case, while the Supreme Court allocated seven judges to hear the legal arguments.
Alex Rook, from the public law team at Irwin Mitchell, who is representing the charities, said: “This is potentially the biggest community care case for 15 years.”
He said the charities wanted to “determine once and for all that care needs are care needs regardless of the local authority in question” because they “firmly believe that a person’s individual needs are the same regardless of whether they live in Hackney or Harrogate”.
The court has reserved its judgment until a later date.
9 February 2012